Zach Banner is a big man with a big personality. It was hard for him to be in a position in which he couldn’t express that, but he took it on as a necessary challenge to get himself to where he wants to be. Upon the advice of the older offensive lineman, Banner kept quiet and declined interview requests while remaining inactive all season a year ago in his first trip around the block with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Originally signed in training camp of that year and having earned a spot on the 53-man roster, the former fourth-round pick going into his second season was a healthy scratch all year, but the fact that he remained on the roster the entire time was a testament to what the team though of his potential, something he is now showing. Not that we’ve seen it all.
While he has gained a foothold this year serving prominently as the tackle-eligible tight end, where he should comfortably finish the season having logged over 200 snaps, he does have bigger ambitions. He is, after all, the biological son of an All-Pro tackle in Lincoln Kennedy.
Banner loves playing, and serving in the tackle-eligible role, but he has larger ambitions, as he talked about with Brooke Pryor of ESPN earlier this week. “I’m really here to be a starting tackle in the National Football League”, he said.
He has previously shared the anecdote that, during the 2018 season, head coach Mike Tomlin came up to him and asked him what he has to do to turn him into a multi-million starting tackle, whether that’s for the Steelers or for someone else down the road.
It may end up coming for someone else, because the Steelers still have Alejandro Villanueva and Matt Feiler, both of whom are at least under control or can easily be controlled through the 2020 season. At which point, Banner will be a free agent.
“As much as I love it”, he said of the tackle-eligible role and how the fans have embraced that, “I’m not going to lie, I want to be a starting tackle one day. I’m not going to hide that. I’m going to say it out loud because I think people understand my personality”.
Earlier in the season, when the Steelers needed a backup tackle to start a game, they actually called upon Chukwuma Okorafor, who has been otherwise inactive this season. Ostensibly, it was because they wanted to keep a good thing going with Banner as that eligible.
But if he has his way, he’ll be clearly the direct backup under all circumstances by next season, if not outright starting, having unseated Feiler or Villanueva for the job. If not, he’ll have to wait another year for his chance with the potential to hit the open market.